“Rice and beans” is as Belizean as you will get….and traditionally, this generously served dish included rice swollen in coconut-milk-flavored whole beans soup, choice of meat with gravy, fried plantain, stuffing and potato salad.
The original recipe for potato salad included diced broiled potato, onion, carrots, green peas, eggs seasoned with salad cream and a little mayonnaise and evaporated milk….dash of black pepper and salt to taste.
There can be material poverty…..and poverty of mind and spirit.
Real incomes have been declining for some time….as inflation rates have for years grown faster than rates of increases in incomes.
This reality has hit homes and businesses alike….forcing people to make adjustments so that ends might meet.
The first adjustment to potato salad was the elimination of salad cream….which is what contributed the special tart flavor of traditional potato salad.
Then came the elimination of eggs…..followed by the elimination of carrots….and peas….so that now, potato salad is basically potato, onions and mayonnaise.
Businesses…..like homes….are under pressure to try to make ends meet….so they have to make cuts of all kinds.
Last week I stopped in to have lunch at a restaurant that I had frequented some years ago. The owner is a person that supported my business by buying my VERENA’s food products on a consistent basis. This person used to manage the restaurant and worked out front to attend personally to the customers, with full kitchen and service staff to take orders, make and serve the food and drinks. Now the owner was in the kitchen cooking with only one help back there….and only one waitress to take all orders and serve food and drinks to the tables. Needless to say, we waited very long for the food….and when it came, it was nice as it always was….but the fish came close to being sardines….the portion of rice and beans much smaller, one fried plantain slice instead of two, and a mean cole slaw instead of potato salad.
The restaurant owner may have suffered a stroke in recent times as evidence of that showed in the movement….but the kind, friendly person was still there.
These are tough times….and the toll is not only telling on potato salad….it is telling on peoples stress levels and general declining health.
The breakfast restaurants have all but disappeared…..as people shifted to the ambulatory street side vendors who rushed in to provide the exploding demand for cheaper food…..tacos, tamales, meat pies and Johnny cakes. What used to be tacos have now turned to corn tortilla and gravy with a little cabbage (meat and onion got too expensive)…..chicken neck and feet used to be in the odd tamales, now it is the norm….grind meat in “meat pies” have now turned to meat soup thickened with corn starch….and the Johnny cakes have become jealous of the beans and cheese that used to fill them up.
Even the street vendors have increased their prices to try to turn a profit….even as they have cut quality and cost of materials that go into their product offers.
The pressure is growing…..there is no easing up.
So this growing poverty is changing our culture….it is changing everything that we used to take for granted.
Our government read a national budget on April 1, 2010 which promised to “lower the cost of living no matter what”. It proceeded to lower import duties to ZERO on a range of what they referred to as basic items….saying that this would lower retail prices so that cost-of-living for consumers would decrease. Instead, consumer prices rapidly bounced back as local producers were forced out of the competitive arena by a flood of imported goods that now had no barriers to entry. This lack of competition allowed prices to rise rapidly since then…..far over and beyond where they were at the time of implementation of these policy decisions.
Even though these policy decisions have been demonstrated not to work….and actually to be devastating to our domestic production interests….no one has declared them failed….nor made any effort to correct them.
Now that the price of beans is double what it was ten years ago….“rice and beans” is suffering the same fate as potato salad. Guess what is the new staple in Belice?
Belize now suffers not only from material poverty….but also from a growing poverty of mind and spirit.
Belize is now Belice.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.